Former Imo State governor, Chief Achike Udenwa, has called for the implementation of the 2014 Confab report, stressing that the country can never move forward without restructuring. He said that the North has nothing to fear if Nigeria were restructured as, it would be the fastest developing region. In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the former minister, noted that, a President of Igbo extraction in 2023 will not solve the problems of the Igbo.
What is your view on the state of the nation?
The issue of insecurity should be primary in whatever we are thinking of now because there is fear of loss of life and property in every part of the country today. Before, we thought it was just in the South and in the Middle Belt, but we have seen the activities of some foreign elements in the far North and that has brought insecurity to every part of this country, including the menace of Boko Haram, which has existed for years. I think whatever the government is planning for today; whatever they are thinking of, they must first reassure Nigerians that they are safe, which is the most important thing in the country today. We must look at our security outfits, are they suitable? We must also look at the activities of these hoodlums, be they herdsmen, Boko Haram, cattle rustlers, bandits and the rest of them, and find out exactly why it is happening and their sponsors. It is mindboggling that at the end you find out that all these miscreants carrying very sophisticated weapons, who are well prepared, must have been sponsored by somebody somewhere. These are the issues that we must resolve first because the whole country is in turmoil, nobody is safe.
What lesson is the country supposed to learn from COVID-19?
The country is supposed to realise that health wise, we are not prepared; our health institutions are in shambles in every part of this country, be it at the federal capital, at the states level. We don’t have enough medical facilities to cater for any emergency that is the first thing this has exposed to us.
We must also learn that our economy is extremely fragile. In a situation that most people are daily income earners; not working for any conglomerate, but just eking out a living, you can see how the pandemic has exposed us. So, our economy is in shambles; look at the international market, where oil is no longer selling, and being a country that depends solely on oil, you can see where we are. So, we must strengthen our agriculture, we must strengthen our manufacturing, strengthen our solid minerals. These new sectors of the economy must be strengthened if we have to survive as a country. At the same time, we have to also check out people’s response; why are people not responding to government guidelines. In most cases, this is also part of the problem because a lot of people exist for the day; so lockdown cannot work for us completely, because people must work to earn a living. You can even see the distribution of the palliatives, how many people got the so-called Federal Government palliatives? These are some of the lessons we must learn to try to put them into practice in the post COVID-19 era.
Talking about fixing Nigeria, some are advocating for restructuring, what is your position on this?
I support restructuring; I’m part of those who have been talking about restructuring, but that doesn’t mean that restructuring will solve all our problems. Our attitude is also important. If we restructure, we must also have the right positive attitude towards governance. We must change our present attitude. You cannot run this country the way it is today and expect everything to change; nothing will change because we have got a situation that our attitude is why do we grab and grab what is available and not how to create and increase productivity, our GDP, not looking at our competitiveness in the international market. What we are doing today can never bring progress. Our productivity is going down while our population is going up. I don’t know of any economy that will work on that basis. We have to restructure; honestly, we have no choice.
Let us go back to the report of the 2014 National Conference; that should be our starting point. If we are not satisfied completely with what was recommended, we could set up a small committee, made up of people from different shades in Nigeria coming together and looking at the recommendation. We may not accept it, but the report is comprehensive. I was a member of that conference, I knew the pains we took, I knew the arguments that went through, I knew all the efforts put in by people from all sectors of the Nigerian society to come out with those recommendations. Honestly, if we implement those recommendations, Nigeria will be a better place for all of us. What are we looking for, are we looking for ethnic champions, are we looking for religious bigots, or what are we looking for? What we are looking for is a stable Nigeria that works; that provides for everybody irrespective of tribe, ethnic or religion. A Nigeria where all of us are free; where all of us feel that we belong and where everybody works. It is not a question of trying to share what is there. The oil is something natural and we have practically added nothing to it; we are just thinking of how to share the proceeds of oil, while every part of the world is moving and developing. Look at how Information Technology (IT) is ruling the world; where are we?
We need to go through that document and implement it. If we are not satisfied, give it to a small committee to look at. The report is in three parts. One is the part that can be implemented administratively, you don’t need any law, and it is just for the Executive to implement those sections. The second is the part that has to be implemented by the National Assembly enacting laws, and the third one and most importantly is the part that needs constitutional review that will involve the NASS and all the 36 states Houses of Assembly.
If we can have the courage to implement this, Nigeria will be a better place for all of us. Let us not fear that some people may lose power if we restructure. It is a win win situation. Nigerians will be happier, the country will be a better place and there will be commitments. Today, there is no commitment; let us be honest, who is committed to Nigeria? Nobody, it is only what can I grab; what can I get from Nigeria, but the issue of loyalty, the issue of people putting in their best into the country is not there any longer; that’s now in the past. We are just deceiving ourselves, for us to survive, we must restructure.
Why is the present government so averse to restructuring and implementation of the 2014 Confab report?
They are averse to it because they have been fed with the wrong notion that some parts of the country will suffer under a restructured Nigeria. This is a complete lie. Talk about people who will survive first, after the South-South because of oil, Southwest because of Lagos, the North will be the next. The entire North is the number one in Agriculture in this country. They are number one in solid minerals. No other part of the country has better sustainable resources more than the North. They will only need to go back home and work hard, and they will overtake every part of this country.
They are averse to it because they have a wrong notion that without oil they cannot exist. Oil is gradually becoming less important, and even this COVID -19 period has shown us how vulnerable oil has become. We cannot build our economy on oil; there are other important sectors like agriculture, solid minerals, and manufacturing. If we expose them well, Nigeria will be great. It is for that fear that you see them dancing around the 2014 confab report. They know it is the correct thing to do.
Between restructuring and 2023 presidency, which do you prefer for the Igbo?
Let me be honest with you, sentimentally, the Igbo want presidency. However, presidency in this confused state brings no real benefits to the Igbo. We should opt for restructuring before presidency. There is nothing wrong with Igbo presidency, but to me restructuring before Igbo presidency.
I said so because whoever assumes the presidency of the country, be it from the Southwest, Northwest, etc, under this confused state, under the present system we are operating, under the present constitution, will still not have Nigeria of our dream. Let us restructure first, the next election is 2023, and we still have at least three clear years. If we start the process of restructuring, we are not going to have a big conference any longer; the report is already there, probably, you can have a review of it, and in the next two years, you can implement everything in that report. Igbo presidency and restructuring are not alternatives; they are not. They can be complementary; if we restructure today and you are talking of Igbo presidency, then it has a better meaning to me, but the priority to us in Nigeria today should be restructuring, this we can do very quickly. It is unfortunate that Jonathan set up that conference very late in his administration, probably; he was hoping that if he won the 2015 election, he would start the implementation. That is the only problem we have with the conference. If this present government is determined to implement that report, in the next two years, it will be fully implemented. You can’t convince me that Igbo have anything to gain by becoming president; what will Igbo president do for us under this present constitution? Let us restructure and still have the Igbo presidency. Restructuring comes first.
What is your view on the over N9trn loan the Federal Government is taking, and no project from Southeast is to benefit from it?
If I start cataloguing all the things that have been done against the Southeast, it will take a whole day. This is part of it, and that tells you to what extent this present government is marginalizing the Southeast. How can you take a loan where all of us will be made to repay and the Southeast is completely excluded? If you watch that loan, the strategic items in that loan are all located in the North, forget that we have a few things in the Southwest and in the South-South. It is a loan that is specifically to be used in the development of the North. The Southeast is completely excluded. Look at the new railway rehabilitation programme. First, you rehabilitate Lagos to Kano; after this, you are going to construct what they call, the Coastal rail, which will terminate in Calabar, and invariably, from Calabar, then to Makurdi, and from there, they continue, which means the whole line from Port Harcourt to Enugu to Makurdi is cut off. What does it show you? You have one other flank where they are talking of going from Warri to Benin and branches at Onitsha. It shows you that Southeast is completely excluded from that railway programme. Are these other railway lines more viable than Port Harcourt to Enugu to Makurdi, and continues. That one is a more viable route; it is the old rail line. You want to rehabilitate the old West line and you cancel the old Eastern line, and divert it through Calabar to the North. What are you telling us, are we daft? That is the issue of the day. Some of our legislators were good enough to point out this. That has been the problem, and you can think of hundred ways that the Southeast has been marginalised. I don’t think that a president of Igbo extraction under the present constitution can only cure this marginalization. We got to restructure first and talk about Igbo presidency.
In the event restructuring doesn’t come before the election, what then should the Igbo do?
Honestly, I don’t see restructuring and Igbo presidency as alternatives. Whatever programme we are having, we should make sure we restructure first. If the restructuring is not coming immediately, to me the Igbo presidency is still not the answer to our problems; I don’t see what it will do for us. Yes, it is good, at least from the sentimental angle, as every other zone has been ruling the country, except the Southeast. To that extent, that is the sentimental aspect of it, but in reality that doesn’t pay us; what pays us is restructuring and by the time you do this, you have a very good zonal or states arrangement and everybody will concentrate more there.
Look at security; a centralized security cannot handle the problem we are having today. Security problems can only be handled locally.
You said security problems can only be handled locally, and in this vein, the Southwest came up with Amotekun, a regional security outfit, but the Southeast governors have agreed with the IGP on community policing model, which analysts say, it is deepening the unitary system in a said federal system. What is your take on this?
We had an Ohanaeze meeting; Ohanaeze Ime Obi meeting, I was at that meeting that was early February, we rose with a resolution that Southeast should have a regional security system, akin to Amotekun, and I was privileged again to be part of Ime Obi delegation that went to Government House, Enugu that same day, and had a meeting with the Southeast governors, who were incidentally having a meeting there, and we presented our situation; we told them our position, only for a week after to hear about their agreement with the IGP on community policing. That is not the stand of the Southeast; it is the stand of the governors and not the stand of the Southeast. I’m not telling what I was told, I was at the Ime Obi meeting and was at the meeting with the Southeast governors, and we made it clear to them that this is where we stand, a regional security system. I don’t know where they got the community policing thing from, where the IGP is still in charge.
This is part of the contradiction of our federation, you call the governor of a state, the chief security officer of the state, and he cannot give any command to the commissioner of police. Anything he tells the commissioner of police, the CP has to tell the IGP, who will then give the final instruction. Does the IGP even know what is happening in his own state? These are parts of the contradictions of our constitution.
You can’t govern this country from a unitary system, it can’t work. We talk about Federal Republic of Nigeria; there is nothing federal about what we have been practicing since the army took over in 1966. What we have been running is unitary system, and it has not worked, it is the root of our problem. A centralized system, call it, the security system, call it the economic system, call it anything, if you go to the report of the 2014 Confab, you will see the items on the Exclusive List have been reduced, and sent down to the Concurrent List. The only thing a country will leave on the Exclusive Lists are Defence, Foreign Affairs, Currency and just few things that should be there; all other things go to the Concurrent List so that states can look after themselves, and we can even judge the states, you can judge somebody’s performance because he has all the latitudes and people can see what the person at the helm of affairs is able to do, with all the powers around him. Our present system is very contradictory, it is not a federal system at all; we are just answering Federal Republic of Nigeria in name.